Author: Christina Rexrode
Many young adults are priced out of the housing market. That could reshape their finances—and the economy—for years to come.
Alex Ruiz, 29 years old, and his wife, Stephanie Johnson, have steady jobs, are setting aside money for retirement and are slowly paying down their student debt.
Yet buying a house seems out of reach for at least another decade. Home values in Asheville, N.C., where they live, are up some 70% over the past seven years. Their student-loan payments and rising rent have made it difficult to save for a down payment, and the houses that go on the market get snapped up right away.
“Day to day we’re OK generally,” said Mr. Ruiz, a case manager at a government-funded agency. “But the depressing part is when we take a hard look at the possibility of our future.”
For generations, the wealth of U.S. households was built on the foundation of homeownership. That is changing.
Homeownership rates for younger Americans have fallen sharply over the last decade. The median age of a home buyer is 46, the oldest since the National Association of Realtors began keeping records in 1981. Economists, policy makers and mortgage lenders expect the trend to extend to younger generations. The decline illustrates what for many Americans is the real legacy of the financial crisis.
People who came of age in the crisis and its immediate aftermath had no bargaining power when they entered the job market, crimping their earnings ever since. They started adulthood when the housing market was crashing and watched as banks foreclosed on their parents—and decided they weren’t interested in tying their fortunes to a piece of property.
Now, as memories of the crisis fade, they want to buy homes but are finding themselves priced out of the market. Home prices have risen across the board but most steeply among the starter homes first-time buyers can afford, as developers focus on high-end properties where profit margins are higher. The average price of lower-priced homes rose by 64% from early 2012 to late 2018, according to mortgage-data tracker CoreLogic, while the price of higher-end homes rose just 40%.
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